07/30/11 — New music trail will honor area musical stars

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New music trail will honor area musical stars

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on July 30, 2011 11:26 PM

Wayne County is full of talented musicians who have played with some of the greats in the industry, but who remain unknown.

But local arts officials say that will soon change with the African-American Music Heritage Trail.

The purpose of the project, said Sarah Merritt, Arts Council of Wayne County director, is to document the rich tradition of music in Wayne and seven surrounding counties, celebrate it and develop it into a travel and tourism vehicle.

The other counties participating in the music trail project are Pitt, Nash, Jones, Greene, Wilson, Lenoir and Edgecombe.

It's a partnership with the North Carolina Arts Council and the Folk Life Institute.

The project got its start a few years ago when Lenoir County started documenting its local musicians in response to a similar project in the western part of the state, Mrs. Merritt said.

Wayne County began keeping a similar record back in 2008.

"It's an ever-evolving project," she said. "As we get into it, we know that there will be so many untapped people that we haven't talked to yet. The project will continuously grow as the years go by. We really have some talented musicians in this area. It goes much deeper than anybody thought when we started this project."

Mrs. Merritt said what has happened with a lot of these musicians, especially the older ones who used to be in music groups in the 1960s, is that when they were budding musicians, many left to go to big cities to pursue their music career.

And sometimes when musicians didn't travel by airplane, Wayne County was in the corridor where traveling musicians stopped and played. They would pick up local musicians to form bands and to play backup.

After they retired, the musicians came back to their hometown and are now living low-profile lives.

"A lot of times, these musicians have gone back to their church to play music," Mrs. Merritt said. "Sometimes they've taught music lessons. With a lot of them, there was not necessarily an outlet for them to keep up with members of the musical community who are jazz or blues musicians."

Mrs. Merritt said some of the musicians have played with greats like James Brown and countless other well-known musicians.

"You think, "Oh my Lord, that's amazing," she said.

The African American music genre was chosen to be on the heritage trail because there are so many blues, jazz, gospel and African American musicians in this community and those types of music have been the sole contributor of American roots music that paved the way for rock and roll and more, Mrs. Merritt said.

Most of the documentation has been done and now each of the eight counties involved will plan a public art event to honor the musicians, Mrs. Merritt said. The first will be in Kinston.

Then an African American Music Heritage Trail guidebook will be put together about each county and the musicians who live there or who came through and played there. It will also include information about the various venues that were popular back in those days, along with the venues that are popular today and each county's festivals and other arts projects.

For Wayne County, that will include Jazz on George and the Center Street Jam.

The guidebook will have photographs and a map. There will also be an interactive website.

The final phase of the project will be a kiosk at each of the eight counties' visitor centers and travel and tourism offices.

"I think it will boost our tourism," Mrs. Merritt said. "So many people are interested in that history. It can be a wonderful thing and will bring people here to see for themselves a place where their favorite R&B artist from that time played."

An added benefit the project provides is training for representatives from the eight counties on how to go out and document the musicians who still haven't been documented. They will receive instruction on how to film, take photographs and conduct interviews so the final product will be a quality one.

"It will give us the tools and expertise to document musicians," Mrs. Merritt said. "We'll have the resource right here in our county to continue this project."

Wayne County will host a workshop in the spring.

Anyone who knows of a local musician who should be included in the heritage trail is asked to call the Arts Council at 736-3300.